I got back from the greengrocers’, dumped the shopping in the kitchen, put the kettle on and went in the front room to fetch the vase for the bunch of daffodils. Geoff was lounging on the sofa watching the news channel.
‘I’ll have a cup of tea if you’ve got the kettle on.’
‘Okay, I’ll just put the daffs in water.’
Back in the kitchen I put the vase under the tap and turned it on too fast, splashing my face and soaking my sleeves, but the cold water shock was nothing to the cold realisation that paralysed me and left me incapable of turning off the tap. Geoff couldn’t be sitting on the sofa, he had been dead for five months.
Shakily turning off the tap and clutching a towel to my face I turned to the kitchen door. It must have been an hallucination. Since Geoff died I had not had any funny feelings, no sense of his presence. Not like my friend, whose late husband seemed to have turned into some sort of household god, steering her to the right drawers and cupboards to find things, being ‘present’ when she watched their favourite programmes. If Geoff was a manifestation it served me right for thinking she was going out of her mind…
I forced myself to go back to the front room, but even before I lowered the towel and opened my eyes I could hear that familiar heavy breathing and humming as he did the crossword and followed the news updates.
‘Cathy, what’s the matter, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘I have, I mean I know you’re not real, perhaps I should have gone for counselling. I told everyone I was fine, after all there are families in this pandemic who have suffered far worse and lots of wives have lost husbands.’
‘Cathy, what are you talking about, you’re not going down with dementia are you?’
‘Geoff, there’s no easy way to say this, you died five months ago.’
‘Ha ha, very funny, I know it was scary, me being carted off in the ambulance yesterday. Hey lucky me, it was only one of my asthma attacks, negative for covid.’
Six months ago he had been carted off in an ambulance. It was covid, but he was lucky, no intensive care though I couldn’t go and see him. They let him come home, needed the bed no doubt, to isolate and continue recuperating; me to dial 999 if there were any problems.
That’s how I knew for sure he had died, not unrecognisable in hospital covered in tubes, me trying to talk to him via Facetime on my ipad… he was at home when it happened.
We had just had dinner. Geoff was catching up with the news and telling the politicians what they should be doing. I went in the kitchen to tidy up and make coffee, when I came back in I sensed the silence straight away. There he was, crossword still in hand, head back, silent, switched off.
Instinctively I turned off the television, thinking he would not want to be watching it now. Geoff had said when he came out of hospital, so relieved just to be home ‘Now don’t you worry if I die in my sleep, you know what they said about my heart, it’s a good way to go, better than those poor buggers on machines in intensive care. And I don’t want you trying CPR on me, you couldn’t do it right on that dummy when we did our first aid course.’
So I didn’t do anything.
‘Geoff, you did die, right there, five months ago, do you remember?’
Silly question, how could he remember if he was dead and why was I talking to a figment of my imagination… why was he talking back?
‘Cathy, if you think I am a ghost, come and feel me, solid as ever, too solid you were always telling me.’
He held out his hand and for the first time I moved close to him. His hand was warm and firm. Tentatively I put my hand on his chest, he felt real and his chest was moving, he was breathing. Five months ago I would have given anything to have him back irritating me with his breathing and humming as I tried to read my book. If he had walked back in the door then I would have hugged him… But now I needed to get away, this was the laws of nature turned upside down or I was going insane. I pulled my hands away and retreated to the doorway.
‘Geoff, I know you are dead, I was here when you died, Andrew has the DVD of the live streaming of your funeral at the crematorium, though I suppose that isn’t proof. Your ashes are in the cupboard in your office; I’m sorry, we haven’t been able to get together to scatter them, still in lockdown. I have your death certificate… and those clothes you’re wearing went to the charity shop months ago.’
He just laughed. ‘Well it seems I am alive and well, you obviously need a breath of fresh air to clear your head, where shall we go for our walk this afternoon?’
A walk outside, that would prove he was real, perhaps the past five months had been a nightmare; that would be easy to prove. I dashed out of the room. Geoff’s coat was not hanging on its usual peg. I stumbled upstairs and into our bedroom, his side of the wardrobe was empty. I dashed into what he used to call his office; the desk was empty. I opened the corner cabinet and the large grey cardboard tube with his ashes was still there. In the bureau was the box of sympathy cards and the neat file of paperwork Andrew had helped me sort out; inside the first plastic slip was the death certificate.
My knees nearly gave way as I started down the stairs and Geoff sauntered out of the front room.
‘I’m just going to check my emails before lunch.’
I couldn’t let him go upstairs. Andrew had taken Geoff’s computer, I had my ipad, I didn’t want it. But the fact that Geoff couldn’t check his emails was the least of my problems. The Geoff who couldn’t be real was solid and could walk and talk. If we went strolling down the road, what on earth would the neighbours say?